Canadian Martyrs Part 3- Washed in the Blood of the Lamb

7 Oct

‘Huron Carol’ is performed and arranged by Heather Dale — (from her CD “This Endris Night”). Used with permission.

News of gruesome deaths of Jesuits in Canada failed to deter still more priests and donnés alike from recognizing Jesus’ summons to apostleship: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (110) Noël Chabanel and Gabriel Lalemant were the last two of the Canadian martyrs to answer this calling. Their path to Heaven passed through Ste.-Marie among the Hurons, overcoming daily crosses both large and small.

Encouraged by the prospect of serving with the likes of Jean de Brébeuf, Antoine Daniel, and Charles Garnier, rhetoric instructor Noël Chabanel, born in Saugues near Marseille, left the classroom for the wilderness of Huronia. Fr. Brébeuf was Chabanel’s first mentor upon his arrival in Québec on August 15, 1643. (111) Eighteen years after his first sight of New France, Brébeuf was back in Québec recovering from a broken collarbone when the ship carrying Noël Chabanel with fellow Jesuit Fathers Gabriel Druillet and Léonard Garreau docked after three months at sea.

Chabanel had been presumptuously advertised by French Jesuits as “very apt for the [Huron] language.” (112) On the contrary, Chabanel struggled in his linguistic training both in Québec and then during his first two years at Ste.-Marie. He was also repulsed by various Huron customs. (113) Brébeuf’s patient and wise teaching would thus prove exemplary. The elder Jesuit was a friend of French and Huron alike. Brébeuf had composed a hymn, to be known as the “Huron Carol”, combining Huron images of nature with the story of Christ’s Nativity. He also listed recommendations for other Jesuits who were to travel between Huronia and Québec with the Natives:

You must love these Hurons, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers… Try to eat the food they offer you, and eat all you can, for you may not eat again for hours… Be prompt in embarking and disembarking and do not carry any water or sand into the canoe… Do not ask questions. Silence is golden. Bear with their imperfections, and you must try always to be and to appear cheerful… (114)

Jean de Brébeuf’s influence was pivotal in Chabanel’s decision to remain in the Huron missions, even while his linguistic and cultural hardships had him contemplating his return to France. Noël Chabanel relocated to Immaculate Conception Mission at Ossossane where, from 1646 to 1647, he was under the direction of Fr. Pierre Chastelain. (115) There, Chabanel met Fr. Charles Garnier in the latter’s journey toward Petun country, and took final vows before Fr. Paul Ragueneau. His greatest vow, though unofficial, was that of stability in Huronia, made on the Feast of Corpus Christi, June 20, 1647:

My Lord, Jesus Christ, who by the admirable dispositions of Divine Providence, hast willed that I should be a helper of the holy apostles of this Huron vineyard, entirely unworthy though I be, drawn by the desire to co-operate with the designs which the Holy Ghost has upon me for the conversions of these Hurons to the Faith; I, Noël Chabanel, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament of your Sacred Body and Most Precious Blood, which is the testament of God with man; I vow perpetual stability in this Huron mission, it being understood that all of this is subject to the dictates of the Superiors of the Society of Jesus, who may dispose of me as they wish. I pray then, O Lord, that you will deign to accept me as a permanent servant in this mission and that you will render me worthy of so sublime a ministry. Amen. (116)

Chabanel was recalled to Ste.-Marie after only a year at Ossossane, as Jean de Brébeuf had specifically requested the assistance of Chabanel with a growing population of Hurons who were fleeing constant Iroquois destruction of their villages. Ste.-Marie became too small for  this sudden migration of Hurons, therefore Chabanel, Chastelain, and Brébeuf also looked after nearby St. Ignace II. (117) Chabanel’s stay at St. Ignace was also short; Charles Garnier called for help with the remaining Petuns in St. Jean, whose morale was undercut by continued Iroquois attacks. (118) The uneasy peace secured in Montréal two years prior was effectively broken. Teanaostiae, or St. Joseph I, and Ste.-Marie, the largest and most strategic targets in Huronia, lay directly in the path of the Iroquois fury.

The Jesuits ended their annual retreat at Ste.-Marie on July 1, 1648. Fr. Antoine Daniel insisted upon his immediate return to Teanaostiae. (119) Three days later, Fr. Daniel began to celebrate Mass as “the war cries of [advancing] Iroquois were heard.” (120) He proceeded with the Mass, which included numerous baptisms. Daniel feared for the infants and for the sick and dying Hurons, who would be unable to escape the approaching violence. He ordered all able-bodied Hurons to flee, then went forth from the chapel to meet the Iroquois warriors, who shot Fr. Antoine Daniel with arrows and then with a musket.  (121) “He fell and died calling upon the name of Jesus.” (122) The chapel was set aflame along with all of Teanaostiae. Pagan Iroquois offered the body of Antoine Daniel in sacrifice, throwing it into the burning church. The attention paid to Fr. Daniel’s corpse by the warriors, though, allowed most of the Huron villagers of Teanaostiae to escape the carnage for Ste.-Marie or for Christian Island. (123)

Teanaostiae’s fall did not stop willing Jesuits from applying for service in Huronia. One of the last blackrobes to be sent to the Huron missions was Fr. Gabriel Lalemant, the nephew of Charles and of Jérôme. Gabriel was reputed to be physically weak, and despite his famous family heritage, he nearly was not  even permitted to sail from France to Québec. Francesco-Giuseppe Bressani, another veteran of Huronia, “referred to [Lalemant] as a man of extremely frail constitution.” (124) However, Gabriel Lalemant’s dedication overrode his lack of physical strength; he ministered in Québec and learned both the Algonkin and Huron tongues within two years. (125)

Jérôme Lalemant finally agreed to send his nephew to Ossossane for further study of the Huron language under Fr. Chaumonot. (126) To protect against the capture of Jesuits or of their Huron allies, Jérôme Lalemant organized a massive convoy of sixty canoes, two hundred fifty Hurons, and twenty-six Frenchmen, including an armed escort of twelve soldiers, and five priests: Bressani, Bonin, Daran, Greslon, and Gabriel Lalemant. These arrived in Ossossane in late August, 1648. (127)

Facing the prospect of more intense violence from the Iroquois, Jean de Brébeuf appealed to have Fr. Gabriel Lalemant sent to him at St. Ignace. Seven hundred Hurons had been killed since the sacking of Teanaostiae; Ste.-Marie and four neighbouring villages including St. Ignace and St. Louis had been transformed into refugee camps for survivors. (128) Neither these communities nor those of the Petun Nation were safe, therefore Fr. Noël Chabanel had been called to St. Jean to serve alongside Fathers Garnier and Garreau. (129)

Within one month of Fr. Lalemant’s move to St. Ignace, 1 200 Iroquois warriors overwhelmed that village’s Huron sentinels:

Early in the morning of March 16, 1649, as the light of day was breaking, they found the one weak and unprotected spot in the palisaded village and swiftly broke in an overran [it]. Five hundred Hurons, mostly older people, women, and children, were quickly subdued. Some were killed instantly, but most were taken prisoner. Only three managed to escape to warn St. Louis of this disaster and of what was to come. It was a death blow to an already staggering Huronia. (130)

Fathers Jean de Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalemant were both captured during the third attack on St. Ignace. They were fastened to stakes, scalped, mutilated, and burned with hatchets, firebrands, and scalding water- a “mock baptism” devised for the occasion by the Iroquois. (131) Yet the two blackrobes endured for a full day and more. Brébeuf died in the afternoon of March 16, 1649. (132) Like his confrère, Lalemant suffered silently. The one considered to be so frail clung to life overnight; his captors left him at sunset, hoping for him to survive until morning, when they could make of him a holocaust to their awakening sun god.  (133) A hatchet blow finished Fr. Gabriel Lalemant about fourteen hours after the death of Fr. Jean de Brébeuf. The latter’s courage was so renowned that the Iroquois who killed him consumed his heart to receive a portion of his fortitude. (134) As he expired, Fr. Brébeuf taught the Huron captives of St. Ignace:

My children… let us lift our eyes to Heaven at the height of our afflictions; let us remember that God is the witness of our sufferings, and will soon be our [exceedingly] great reward. Let us die in this faith, and let us hope from His goodness [for] the fulfillment of His promises. I have more pity for you than for myself, but sustain with courage the few remaining torments. They will end with our lives. The glory [that] follows them will never have an end.

‘Echon’, these said to him, ‘our spirits will be in Heaven when our bodies shall be suffering on earth. Pray to God for us, that He may show us mercy. We will invoke Him even unto death.’ (135)

Thus Echon, the Healing tree, was felled along with Fr. Gabriel Lalemant. Alarm spread across the Jesuit communities of New France. Jérôme Lalemant subsequently ordered Ste.-Marie to be abandoned and to be deliberately destroyed, and a new and safer village to be built on Christian Island. (136) Noël Chabanel, still mourning the death of his friends Brébeuf, Lalemant, and Daniel, was to lead the remaining Hurons northward. He left St. Jean on December 5, 1649. (137) Two days later, Fr. Charles Garnier, the only Jesuit left in St. Jean, was martyred as the village burned around him. Two bullets struck Garnier, who, staggering to his knees and fighting for his last breath, baptized a dying Petun and then rendered himself unto God. (138)

Noël Chabanel and his group of escapees from St. Jean were not far into their journey when the distant cries of Iroquois were heard. Most of the Hurons fled, although Louis Honareenhax remained with the main group of refugees. Fr. Chabanel’s last days were shrouded in mystery for the next year. In 1650, Fr. Paul Ragueneau, the newly-elected Jesuit Superior of New France, released that year’s Relation that included Honareenhax’s account of Chabanel’s last act of charity. Chabanel and a few Hurons had been stopped near the broken ice of the Nottawasaga River on a bitterly cold winter night. Noël Chabanel gave his coat to a freezing Huron, and then he was never seen again. (139)

Part of this story may have been true, but Fr. Ragueneau distrusted Louis Honareenhax, a well-known apostate Huron. Honareenhax, Fr. Ragueneau revealed later, “had publicly confessed and even bragged that he had killed Father Noël with a hatchet blow and thrown his body [into] the half-frozen Nottawasaga River…” (140) Fr. Noël Chabanel had been martyred on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1649. (141)

Pope Pius XI canonized the eight Canadian Martyrs, Fathers Isaac Jogues, Antoine Daniel, Charles Garnier, Jean de Brébeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, and Noël Chabanel, and donnés René Goupil and Jean de la Lande, together on June 29, 1930.  (142) Their story is one of charity and of diversity, from the brilliant teachers Brébeuf and Jogues to Goupil, the former medical student and patron Saint of anaesthetists, and to Noël Chabanel, “the silent hero of the hard trail, patron of misfits…, of the lonely , disappointed, and abandoned.” (143) Despite the bleak outlook for the Jesuit missions in New France after the dismantling of Ste.-Marie, the work of the black robes began to bear fruit soon thereafter. At Ossernenon, where Saints Isaac Jogues, René Goupil, and Jean de la Lande had been tortured and killed, Tegakouita, who took the baptismal name Kateri, derived from Catherine, was born in 1656. In 1980, Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks, became the first North American Indian ever beatified. (144)

The Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians was written to encourage the early Church, but its words, read on the Feast of the Canadian Martyrs, are timeless: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”  (145) The Catholic Church in North America did not die with the eight Jesuits, but instead it thrived on their example. However, some were still deeply shaken long after the loss of the great missionaries. In 1666, Jesuit Father Claude Allouez roamed the “desolate wilderness north of Lake Superior,” (146) possibly looking for Hurons dispersed into the barrens during the desperate flight of 1649. Isolated Natives had been found by explorers of the region in previous years. A lone Fr. Allouez came upon a group of Petuns there, many of whom had tears in their eyes. They explained that they were mourning the death of Father Charles Garnier, martyred in St. Jean eighteen years earlier. (147)

Our Lord promises everlasting consolation to those who give their lives for love of Him and of their neighbour:

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (148)

† Priez pour nous

Pray for us †



9 Responses to “Canadian Martyrs Part 3- Washed in the Blood of the Lamb”

  1. canadiancatholicblog October 7, 2008 at 1:53 pm #


    (110) Luke 9:23
    (111) cf. Peter Ambrosie, Noël Chabanel/ 1613-1649,, 1-2.
    (112) Ibid., 2.
    (113) Ibid., 3.
    (114) Angus MacDougall, Jean de Brébeuf/ 1593-1649,,3.
    (115), 4.
    (116) Ibid.
    (117) cf. Ibid., 5.
    (118) cf. Ibid.
    (119) cf. Winston Rye, Antoine Daniel/ 1601-1648,, 5.
    (120) Ibid.
    (121) cf. Ibid.
    (122) Ibid.
    (123) cf. Ibid.
    (124) Angus MacDougall, Gabriel Lalemant/ 1610-1649,, 2.
    (125) cf. Ibid.
    (126) cf. Ibid.
    (127) cf. Ibid., and Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online,, Article on Francesco-Giuseppe Bressani. Fr. Bressani, born in Rome, had returned to France after a well-publicized kidnapping by the Iroquois in 1644. Like Fr. Isaac Jogues before him, he had his hands mutilated during his captivity. Bressani spent four years in la Rochelle, France, then came back to Québec in 1648. He was shocked to hear that Fr. Daniel had been killed and Teanaostiae sacked in his absence.
    (128) cf. Ibid.
    (129) cf., 5.
    (130), 2.
    (131) cf. Angus MacDougall, Jean de Brébeuf/ 1593-1649,, 4.
    (132) cf. Ibid.
    (133) cf., 3.
    (134) cf. Ibid.
    (135) cf., 5.
    (136) cf., 6.
    (137) Ibid.
    (138) cf. James McGivern, Charles Garnier/ 1606-1649,, 7.
    (139) cf., 6.
    (140) Ibid., 7.
    (141) cf. Ibid.
    (142) cf. Time, “The Pope’s Week”, 7 July, 1930,,9171,846846-1,00.html
    (143), 7.
    (144) cf. Patron Saints Index, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha,
    (145) 2 Corinthians 4:8-10
    (146), 1.
    (147) cf. Ibid.
    (148) Revelation 7:16-17.

  2. brotherutoy October 11, 2008 at 5:38 am #

    That was one well-researched and well-written piece! I personally see the story of Isaac Jogues as very edifying.

    It’s a real honor for me to have my little blog included in your blogroll and as a lame gesture of gratitude, I’m adding you up too.:) I knew so little of Canada except that it produced the artists, Celine Dion and Jim Carrey, and that “Catherine,” a Canadian sit-com I get to watch for some time at TV5Monde, is downright hilarious.

    God bless and be assured of my humble prayers.

  3. brotherutoy October 18, 2008 at 5:36 pm #

    greeting you on this blessed feast day of the Canadian martyrs. God bless! and for you, I’ll try to blog in English again.ü

  4. canadiancatholicblog October 18, 2008 at 7:40 pm #

    Thank you, Brother Utoy, for the greetings on the feast day of the Canadian martyrs. They have two feast days, September 26 in Canada and October 19 in the USA and probably in most countries. The latter day seems more natural for their feast, since it commemorates the death of St. Isaac Jogues (1646) specifically. I was asked yesterday why Canadians celebrate the feast of the Canadian Martyrs on September 26. If you or anyone has the answer, please let me know.

    Right now, I’m working on my next post, on the Transfiguration of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel. Appropriately, today (Oct. 18) is the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist. It’s always a good day to evangelize. Happy feast day to you, and God Bless you, too!


  5. daniel October 22, 2008 at 9:36 am #

    Muchas gracias por su visita. Tuve la suerte de vivir en Ottawa seis meses. Quiero mucho a canadá y tus palabras y tu link me emocionan. Te pido que reces por mi y por españa y yo rezo por Canada, por ti y tu vocación. Muchas gracias and pray for us.

  6. rick September 26, 2009 at 1:12 pm #


  7. brotherutoy December 6, 2011 at 2:51 am #

    Hi, Warren! Brother Utoy here. I was reading my old blog and I saw your comment and I just thought of writing to you again.
    I was ordained as deacon last October 23rd and will be returning to France next year to study about St. Pierre-Julien Eymard, the founder of our congregation.
    Just a bit of trivia, our Congregation runs a parish in Rome, Italy and it is dedicated to the Canadian Martyrs. the address is Parrocchia SS. Martiri Canadesi, Via Giovanni Battista de Rossi, 46 00161 ROMA RM ITALIA. It’s a big church just a few blocks from Termini train station, has lots of stained glass windows and a rather unusual altar.
    God bless you!

    • canadiancatholicblog December 28, 2011 at 1:02 am #

      Hi Brother Utoy,

      Thank you for your comment and sorry for being so slow to reply. I haven’t been on my blog very often lately.

      Merry Christmas to you. Also, congratulations on your ordination to the diaconate. God-willing, I will be ordained a deacon sometime mid-2013. May God bless you in your study in France. It’s interesting that there’s a parish in Rome (run by your congregation no less) dedicated to the Canadian Martyrs. If I ever make it to Rome, I’ll need to visit this parish. Thanks for sharing about it, along with the parish’s address. This series on the Canadian Martyrs remains one of the most inspiring stories I’ve studied and posted here.

      God Bless you, too.


  1. A Saint for Losers « The Thinking Housewife - September 26, 2016

    […] Today is the feast of the eight men known as the North American Martyrs, who together did succeed in converting many hundreds of the natives. They also include Jean de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues and Rene Goupil, who was tortured and later killed with a hatchet after he made the sign of the cross over a child. A full book on the life of St. Isaac Jogues, who lived among the Iroquois, can be found here. More on Noel Chabanel, a patron saint for misfits, can be found here and here. […]

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